Frontal Sinuses in Hominid Skulls Offer Insight on Evolution

A new study conducted by Chris Stringer and colleagues have led to a fascinating possibility that variation in the size and shape of the frontal sinuses can be linked to the development of the frontal lobe; the part of the brain accountable for emotion, planning, and speech. Frontal sinuses are “cavities inside the frontal bone located at the junction between the face and the cranial vault and close to the brain” (Balzeau, 2022). Yet, despite knowing the job and role of the frontal sinuses, there is still very little knowledge on the evolutionary aspect of it.

Located right above the nose, the frontal sinus which has often been forgotten historically now offer possible insight to past relationships with ancient hominids.

As mentioned, Stringer and his team were able to undergo multiple studies to link the size of the frontal sinus among previous fossil hominids with the frontal lobe. First off, they conduced CT scans on 94 individuals, which were from more than 20 species of human fossil hominids. From this, they created 3D models of their frontal sinuses and compared them with one another. Their length and widths, as well as their shapes were recorded which led to further observations. For example, the team were able to determine that “species such as Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens have distinct ranges of sinus size, which researchers suggest could be linked to evolutionary constraints caused by the development of characteristics such as larger brains” (Bartek, 2022). This shows the evolutionary aspect of the human, emphasizing in the different amount of space the brain had to grow for each species. A common denominator that was found among the 3D models was the sinuses and the size of the frontal lobe starting from homo erectus and onwards. The size of the sinuses proved to be persistent and correlate with the development of one of the brain’s lobes (short extension) compared to the other. Studies suggest this part of the brain plays a role in determining humans dominant hand and is shared amongst most humans today.

However, as much discovery that was made, there were also many unanswered questions and confusion amongst the group. Homo rhodesiensis, for instance, display a very unusual large sinus size compared to their relatives. Although there is no clear explanation for their large sinus size, the team hypothesized that they are a specialized group. This means that their way of living and the environment they were exposed to was different from their relatives.

These species have extremely large brow ridges, which leads many to hypothesize their role in social signaling.

Although these new studies provided new insight and discoveries towards our human past and evolutionary progress, more studies will have to be done to answer questions like these. Sinuses should be evaluated and looked more upon for future studies conducted, as they will help us understand how todays human species came to be.

Further Readings: 

Clues to Apes and Human Evolution

To understand human evolution, follow the trail of sinuses


Saraceni, Jessica, 2022. “Frontal Sinuses in Hominin Skulls May Offer Clues to Evolution.” Archeology.

Balzeau, Antoine, 2022. “Frontal sinuses and human evolution.” Science.


Late prehistoric Native American migration in the Midwest – following the Bison

In response to a variety of factors including a changing climate, lack of traditional food availability, and relations with neighbors, several indigenous groups in North America migrated to the great plains in the late prehistoric period and changed their way of life to revolve around a new primary food source; bison. Indigenous people living in the central plains previously did not subsist primarily off of the bison or have a mobile lifestyle – archaeological evidence shows remnants of permanent dwellings and commonly found animal bones from small game in a food context, while bison bones were found much less frequently, and those that were appeared to be artifacts from tools, not necessarily food. (Ritterbush 2002). In contrast, two groups entered the plains area in the late prehistoric period; the Algonquians (also called the Illinois) and the Oneota. Both of these groups came from an area east of the plains where they primarily subsisted on different sources of food like agriculture and small game.

Figure 1: Many Native American stereotypes come from the common image of indigenous people from the great plains – teepees specifically are an iconic stereotype of the Native American, when in fact they are only typical of groups living mobile lifestyles in the Great Plains (“Lighting of the Teepees: Illuminating Indigenous Peoples’ Day” n.d.). 

The Algonquians left their previous lands near the great lakes due to climate change that made agriculture much more difficult, as well as a lower human population on the plains. They did not move with the goal of continuing their agricultural traditions, instead, they changed tactics and became pedestrian bison hunters (Morrissey 2015). This change had a massive effect on their social organization – whereas before there would be small hunting parties for small game, buffalo required large teams, entire villages devoted to following, trapping, and killing these animals. This caused a shift in Illinois group dynamics – groups became much larger and more mobile, permanent villages were uncommon (Morrissey 2015).

The Oneota had a similar trajectory – they came from sites near the Great Lakes to the Central Plains, possibly driven by intra-group fissions and the promise of endless bison herds (Ritterbush 2002). Once in the central plains they dominated the pre-existing groups, who lived in mostly small family groups, whereas the Oneonta had the large groups (300 or more members) that were necessary for bison hunting. They were attracted by the lack of population in the plains, and possibly driven by an overpopulation and lack of resources around the Great Lakes. Archaeological evidence of bison remains supports the idea that these groups migrated to exploit this food niche. An abundance of specific types of bones used for tools suggested long-distance trade with more western groups, and findings of those bones in more eastern areas signifies that the trade network may have continued further to the east (Ritterbush 2002). The new resource of bison and the larger social networks that the hunt for bison requires enabled growth of long-distance trade in the Midwest and more complex social groups. 

Figure 2: A map of the locations of Oneota settlements from further east, near the Great Lakes, and the sites they moved to further west in the Great Plains (Ritterbush 2002).

Both of these groups, the Illinois and the Oneota, followed the bison from the Great Lakes to the Central Plains. This movement and the social changes it required created larger, more interconnected and mobile social groups that dominated the region and facilitated long-distance trade. 

Further Reading:

The importance of bison, and their history in North America:

The history of bison in the United States and how the US government endangered them:


“Bison, Buffalo, Tatanka: Bovids of the Badlands (U.S. National Park Service).” n.d.

Bozell, John R. 1995. “CULTURE, ENVIRONMENT, and BISON POPULATIONS on the LATE PREHISTORIC and EARLY HISTORIC CENTRAL PLAINS.” Plains Anthropologist 40 (152): 145–63.

“Lighting of the Teepees: Illuminating Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” n.d. Mountain Time Arts. Accessed October 31, 2022.

Morrissey, Robert Michael. 2015. “Bison Algonquians: Cycles of Violence and Exploitation in the Mississippi Valley Borderlands.” Early American Studies 13 (2): 309–40.

Ritterbush, Lauren W. 2002. “DRAWN by the BISON: LATE PREHISTORIC NATIVE MIGRATION into the CENTRAL PLAINS.” Great Plains Quarterly 22 (4): 259–70.

The Bison: from 30 million to 325 (1884) to 500,000 (today. 2018. “The Bison: From 30 Million to 325 (1884) to 500,000 (Today) – Flat Creek Inn.” Flat Creek Inn. February 10, 2018.

Zedeño, Maria Nieves, Jesse A. M. Ballenger, and John R. Murray. 2014. “Landscape Engineering and Organizational Complexity among Late Prehistoric Bison Hunters of the Northwestern Plains.” Current Anthropology 55 (1): 23–58.

Identifying patterns in climate change

Humans like to focus a lot on patterns and recurring behavior. This is apparent in topics ranging from individual social patterns to global patterns concerning climate change. The “paleo diet,” for example, is meant to emulate a past diet in order to achieve a modern goal. However, this diet was last used thousands of years ago; making the dietary needs and bodily composition of modern day humans and paleolithic humans very different. Culture plays a heavy role in this phenomenon of looking to the past to find answers for modern day issues as opposed to learning about the past as a way of predicting future human and natural patterns. As seen in class, archeology extends far past the study of humans. Since the influence of humans on the climate is so intense, patterns developed by animals and the earth itself have been disrupted. Wildfires have destroyed forests and even archeological artifacts. (Image 1) In an article about changes concerning Yellowstone park, Staffan Peterson concludes that “Future work should, of course, include strengthening the science needed to better understand future events and ways to respond to them. At present we do not have the tools needed to choose the most appropriate management action when new impacts are likely.” Natural cycles have either been accelerated or made impossible to complete altogether. This goes back to the “paleo diet.” What is working as a short term solution is often mistaken as normal and unchangeable. Finding one piece of the past that we think could work for us now doesn’t account for the changing dietary needs of humans for example. Nick Stehr in his article “Trust and Climate” examines how social interactions affect our approach to climate change.  “One of the keys to understanding the social construct of climate is not accomplished by examining the semantics of “normal” climate, but rather by examining how climatic extremes are dealt with and explained by society.” The ideology of reaching a breaking point before needing to deal with something like climate change is a big issue. Additionally, with the way human behavior and culture has evolved now makes climate change and even dietary choices a very public and even political thing. Society is based upon patterns, rules, and consistency. Since our society has evolved into a greenhouse gas dependent one, it makes bigger societal change much more convoluted. 


Stehr, Nico. “Trust and Climate.” Climate Research 8, no. 3 (1997): 163–69.

Peterson, Staffan. “Archeology & Adaptation to Climate Change in Yellowstone.” VOLUME 26 ISSUE 1: ARCHEOLOGY IN YELLOWSTONE

IMAGE 2: Risk category change under historic and projected climate scenarios (acres). 

IMAGE 1: Left, unburned obsidian artifact, right, burned.

Zooarchaeology of Turtles in the Mediterranean

Zooarchaeology, “is the systematic study of animal remains recovered from archaeological sites, with the goal of understanding past human life, in historic and prehistoric times” (University of Tennessee 2013). By looking at the fluctuation of animal species and numbers, archaeologists are able to identify how humans altered the environment, how they interacted with animals, or how their culture shifted over time. Turtles are one of the keystone species in the Mediterranean. Keystone species are a species that an ecosystem largely depends on. They are also a sensitive species to change, which makes them a good subject to study. By studying the fluctuation of turtle populations over time, archaeologists can attempt to discover not only how humans interacted with turtles but also how humans altered the environment that the turtles live in. 

Around 10 years ago, Canan Cakirlar conducted a study of several different turtle species in the Mediterranean. Canan Cakirlar is the head of the zooarchaeology department at Groningen Institute of Archaeology. The study took place at five different sites that were previously fishing harbors and marine ports. These sites included Clazomenae, Kinet, Fadous, Beirut, and Burak in Lebanon. The study examined interactions between humans and turtles in the premodern past. There was no specific time period, rather it was a study of how premodern interactions led to the current population size of turtles in the areas (Cakirlar, Canan, Francis Koolstra, and Salima Ikram 2021).

Figure 1: A map of the turtle study area in the Mediterranean

The specimens collected were examined by context, what type of bone they were, weight, and any form of mark from butchery or gnawing. It was also determined whether the sea turtle was a Loggerhead, Green Sea Turtle, or a Nile soft shelled Turtle. The methods of calculating relative abundance utilized were %MNI (minimum number of individuals) and %NISP (number of identified individuals).

The study found that humans exploited turtles for their shells and meat. There was a sudden increase in the amount of turtle specimens found during the Iron Age, which is believed to be linked to increased access to metal tools and seafare. It is interesting to note that climate impacted the availability of turtles to humans in different places throughout time. The climate had an impact on nesting locations and availability of food. The weather can also affect the archaeology of human and turtle interactions. It is also a possibility that as new people moved into the Mediterranean they utilized the new animal to reduce food insecurity. Two of the more interesting finds were the decrease in size of bones which may have been due to domestication of turtles and that turtle specimens were almost nonexistent at the sites during the Upper Paleolithic and Epipalaeolithic periods.

Even though we know that humans had an impact on the turtle population in the Mediterranean throughout time, the overall significance of past human interactions on the present turtle population is not certain.

Figure 2: Depiction of a Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Obviously the exploitation of turtles for resources contributed to the diminished turtle populations now, but it cannot be said for certain it was all humans since the climate and state of nesting sites play important roles in the survival of turtles as well. More studies surrounding the speciesof turtles in the Mediterranean are being conducted in order to see the severity of impact on the turtle populations today. 


Cakirlar, Canan, Francis Koolstra, and Salima Ikram

  2021  Tracking turtles in the past: zooarchaeological evidence for human-turtle interactions in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean. Antiquity 95(379):125–141.


Casale, Paola

  2007  A model of area fidelity, nomadism, and distribution patterns of loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) in the Mediterranean Sea. Heidelberg 152(5): 1039-1049.


Canan Cakirlar, Jort Bosman, and Salima Ikram

  2019  Archaeozoology of the Near East XII. Barkhuis, Port Angeles


University of Tennessee

  2013  Zooarchaeological Research. Department of Archaeology, Knoxville 

Image References 

Additional Content/Readings (Bibliography)


Pop Culture’s Favorite Wolf Re-Examined

New DNA evidence has emerged about dire wolves, a North American species that went extinct 13,000 years ago. Dire wolves became TV’s most popular wolves after they were featured on the show Game of Thrones, but new analysis has changed their entire species classification.

Much about dire wolves has been unknown throughout history. Fossils evidence of their bones and teeth showed that they were anatomically similar to gray wolves, but 20% bigger. This led scientists to classify them in the same species group as gray wolves. However, a new 2021 study done by archaeologists at Durham University in collaboration with scientists from around the world has proven this to be false. The study examined multiple full genomes, and revealed that dire wolves are evolutionarily very different from gray wolves. Dire wolves evolved in the Americas, completely separately from gray wolves in Eurasia. Dr. Alice Mouton, one of the co-lead authors stated that “We have found the dire wolf is not closely related to the grey wolf. Further we show that the dire wolf never interbred with the grey wolf…Dire wolves likely diverged from grey wolves more than five million years ago, which was a great surprise that this divergence occurred so early. This finding highlights how special and unique the dire wolf was” (Milligan 2021). The fact that there is no evidence that dire wolves ever interbreed with other wolves further highlights how separated they were as a species. 

The research drew on archaeological evidence from a number of places. One of the primary sites for dire wolf fossils is the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, which consists of sticky asphalt. Predators would follow their prey into the pits and then get stuck there, becoming fossilized forever. However, the pits are not the best preservation site for DNA samples, because of how hot the environment is. In order to get further DNA evidence co-author Angela Perri traveled across the US to various university and museum collections in order to find more samples. The team was eventually able to put together five different dire wolf genetic profiles to analyze. The results that revealed dire wolves to be so dramatically different from gray wolves were shocking to the team. Their hypotheses had placed dire wolves as a subspecies or branch of gray wolves, rather than a totally different evolutionary species. Perri remarked that “I think I can speak for the whole group when I say the results were definitely a surprise” (Black 2021). 

This study answered questions about dire wolves that scientists have been asking for years. But questions around the extinction of dire wolves still remain. Factors such as climate change, competition from other wolves, diseases, and humans could have all contributed. While further research might be able to help answer these questions we may never be able to gain a complete picture of dire wolves. However, this study demonstrates the value of archaeological research in being able to shift entire understandings and perspectives of the past.

Further Reading: 



Anderson, Andrea. 2021. “Dire wolves were real—and even stranger than we thought.” National Geographic.

Black, Riley, Angela Perri, and Kieren Mitchell. 2021. “Dire Wolves Were Not Really Wolves, New Genetic Clues Reveal.” Scientific American.

Grimm, David. 2021. “The legendary dire wolf may not have been a wolf at all.” Science.

Marsh, Calum. 2019. “Why Game of Thrones Had to Shoo Away Its Direwolves.” Vulture.

Milligan, Markus. 2021. “Ancient DNA Reveals Secrets of Dire Wolves.” HeritageDaily.

Randall, Keith. 2021. “DNA Reveals Lineage Of Ancient Dire Wolves – Texas A&M Today.” Texas A&M Today.

Figure 1. This image from Game of Thrones indicated how dire wolves had been thought to look and how they have been represented in pop culture. New evidence points to their fur having been redder and their ears being rounder. Photograph from Vulture.

Figure 2. A representation of what dire wolves may have looked like. Drawing by Maurico Anton.


Remembering Only Champion Racers

The striking difference in the disposal of nonprofitable working animals versus their successful counterparts in the world of horse racing.


Thousands of racehorses live, train, and race at the Saratoga Race Track in New York  each year. Since the track’s opening in 1863, only five horses have been buried on site (MacAdam, 202021). Used for their strength and speed to compete in sport, racehorses are considered working animals during their racing career. This lifestyle differs from that of a “pet” horse, which in contrast can be thought of as a longer term companion who provides more utility than just their monetary worth (Avles, 2018).

Each of these five champions of the Saratoga track are buried beneath gravestones that emphasize their success in winning races and earning money for their owners. Buried along a walking tour route of the race track, these horses are clearly marked and honored as champions in plain sight to the general public. The memorialization of these five horses creates a bias in the archaeological record towards remembering the lucrative winners through their respectful burial and careful documentation, and consequently leaves behind the horses who were less successful money makers on the track.

The gravestone of Four Star Dave, buried right along the path that is heavily trafficked by eager tourists during Saratoga’s racing season (Figure 1), states his lifetime earnings: a whopping $1,636,520 (Bouyea, 2018). There are no human names on this gravestone, which is one common note amongst both most pet graves and these 5 horses buried at Saratoga. Instead, there is a list of achievements to emphasize that he was good at his job. The focus on monetary achievement is dissimilar to the words of praise for a friendly temperament or silly nicknames found on many pets’ graves, as noted by Gradwohl’s observations of a pet cemetery (Gradwohl, 2000). The pet gravestones typically show an emotional bond with the buried animal, whereas the race horse gravestones are more explicitly focused on the value extracted from their body through work.

Figure 1. Gravestone of Four Star Dave, buried at the Clare Court track in Saratoga Springs, New York. Photograph by Adam Coglianese.

There are unsuccessful racehorses in the industry. Some find another job as a show horse or companion for pleasure, but others are shipped internationally to slaughter houses and killed for their meat (Figure 2). Moving these animals far from where they used to live and race is symbolic of the common phrase “out of sight, out of mind.” There is a clear archaeological record of the successful horses, who are buried in easily viewable locations at racetracks, but a much more muddled archaeological record of horses who have gone down the auction to slaughter pipeline.

Figure 2. An unsuccessful, former racehorse horse loaded on a trailer to be slaughtered. Photograph by Michael Mulvey.

This is a quiet ridding of some unsuccessful racehorses, whether on purpose or through a series of mishaps. The intense contrast in the memorialization of a horse who was paid for by the pound at auction versus the champion whose gravestone is publicly displayed shows the significant disinterest in what happens to unsuccessful or worn out working animals in the United States.

Links to Additional Resources:





Alves, Rômulo Romeu Nóbrega. 2018. “The Ethnozoological Role of Working Animals 

in Traction and Transport ∗.” In Ethnozoology, 339–49. Elsevier.

Bouyea, Brien. “Fourstardave: 3 Things Everybody Should Know about the ‘Sultan of 

Saratoga’.” Saratoga Living, July 30, 2018.

Gradwohl, David. May/June 2000. “Parakeet to Paradise.” Archaeology Vol. 53 (No. 3): 

  1. 22-24.

MacAdam, Mike, and Photo Provided. “Horse-for-the-Course Quick Call Memorialized 

at Saratoga Race Course.” The Daily Gazette, July 14, 2021.


Image Credits

Gravestone of Four Star Dave [online image]. Photograph taken by Adam Coglianese.

A horse being sent to slaughter [online image]. Photograph taken by Michael Mulvey.


The Insights of Zooarchaeology

Figure 1: Excavation of dog burial. Photo by Del Baston.

            Archaeology has been defined as the study of past societies through the remains of their artifacts (Renfrew and Bahn 2018). While many perceive archaeology as one way of discovery and analysis applied to different ancient societies and cultures, there is actually many specialties within the field that help give insight. One unique example of this is zooarchaeology which is defined as the study of non-human animal remains within the context of past societies and cultures (Painter 2016). Past animal remains can give a lot of insight into the environment that humans lived in and more importantly how they utilized it.

            One interesting study performed by researchers at Binghamton University used the trading of venison to better understand interactions between English Colonists and Native Americans in Virginia’s Potomac River Valley in the late 1600s (Hatch 2012). To begin this investigation, Doctor Hatch performed an excavation at a location referred to as the Hallowes Site. The Hallowes site is located around the delta of the Potomac River on the border of Virginia and Maryland. At this location, Doctor Hatch was able to find artifacts and skeletal remains of deer. Through analysis of the remains, it was found that deer forequarters and hindquarters were found in the highest frequency. One artifact of importance was identified to be a bone awl (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Bone awl recovered at the Hallowes Site. Photo by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

From this evidence and historical records, it was postulated that this location was used for processing the hunted deer for the parts that would be traded to the colonists. This was supported by there being a very high frequency of certain skeletal remains. Also, the identification of Native American tools confirmed that the site was used by the tribes of this area. One question that was created from this investigation was what happened to the rest of the deer that was not left at this location? Archaeologists thought that the heads were kept by the Native Americans due to the importance of the brains for the hide-tanning process. By keeping the parts of the animals that the colonists did not want to buy, the Native Americans were able to use the skin and brain to create leather and produce a product for them to sell and use for themselves. This study represents one aspect of how zooarchaeology can be used to better comprehend a part of the past.

            Zooarchaeology is just one example of the many specialties within archaeology that allows for different perspectives to be seen and ultimately give a clearer image of the past. With the development of new technology and information being learned, the field of archaeology and the specialties within it are constantly growing and improving.

Links of interest:


Hatch, D. Brad. 2012. “Venison Trade and Interaction between English Colonists and.

            Native Americans in Virginia’s Potomac River Valley.” Northeast Historical

            Archaeology 41 (1): 18–49.

Painter, Autumn. 2016. “Zooarchaeology: The Study of Animal Bones and How It Is

            Done.” MSU Campus Archaeology Program (blog). November 29, 2016.


Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn. 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods,

           Practice with 303 Illustrations. Fourth edition. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Archaeological Survey of Pet Cemeteries Reveals the Evolution of Modern Pet Ownership

Sound archaeological evidence posits that dogs were the first human-bred animal; however, for centuries, they remained valued exclusively for their practicality in labor rather than their companionship (Ault 2016). Researchers today largely agree that modern pet-keeping began in Britain in the late 19th century. As researchers search through the archaeological record, increasing evidence shows that Victorians played a prominent role in reshaping historical opinions on pet ownership and human-animal relationships entirely. Though Victorians felt a level of emotional attachment towards their family pets similar to that in the modern day, their displays of such differ greatly due to societal values and beliefs then held (Ferguson 2019). Yet, as beliefs transformed over time, expressions of both adoration and grief over animals evolved as people began inquiring about the role of pets in the household and the spiritual identity of their animal companions (Tourigny 2020).

In 2020, historical researcher and archaeologist Eric Tourigny conducted a systematic survey on four of Britain’s largest pet cemeteries, analyzing stylistic symbolism and language on gravestones to investigate the change in attitudes and perspectives toward pet animals in addition to how those attitudes reflect the ideals, values, and controversies of particular periods.

Figure 1. Gravestones from Hyde Park Cemetery. Photo by Eric Tourigny.

Tourigny’s study of Victorian pet gravestones reveals a general initial hesitance toward acknowledging a spiritual essence within animals, observing that many epitaphs display a reluctance or doubt in realizing an animal afterlife similar to that of humans (Tourigny 2020). Some epitaphs, according to Tourigny, are “carefully worded so as only to suggest or hope for reunification in an afterlife”. Moreover, the vocabulary and information included in many epitaphs of earlier gravestones reveal that pets likely occupied a particular role and space within the family unequal to those of their humans (Tourigny 2020). For instance, Tourigny mentions that many Victorian gravestones contain epitaphs strictly referring to animals as “pets”, “companions”, or “friends”, often only listing their behavioral obedient and loyal qualities. Commemorators also rarely included family surnames when referencing their pets (Tourigny 2020). These trends, Tourigny suggests, portray a time in which pets were emotionally valued additions to households but regarded mostly as non-members of the family.

Towards the end of the second world war, perspectives on animal spirituality and household roles began to pivot. As society became increasingly accepting of religious beliefs going into the mid-century, people became comfortable expressing religious affiliation in the memorialization of their pets (Tourigny 2020). References to the afterlife became commonplace, and religious symbolism began to appear in the designs of gravestones (Tourigny 2020). Additionally, Tourigny notes that a sudden increase in the presence of family surnames on gravestones (see Figure 2) insinuates a general acceptance of pets as true members of the family.

Figure 2. The Use of Family Surnames on Animal Gravestones Over Time. Figure by Eric Tourigny.

Not only does Tourigny’s survey of pet cemeteries aim to understand the transformation of human-animal relationships in recent centuries, but it seeks to understand the influence animals and pet ownership had on initiating transitions in familial, cultural, and societal values. To accomplish this, Tourigny approaches the history of pet ownership through a multi-species archaeological lens by examining how humans have shaped the familial role of pets as well as how pets have inadvertently promoted the individual expression and even re-evaluation of societal beliefs at particular points in history.

To read Eric Tourigny’s research paper, click here.

To read more about Victorian influence on pet-keeping, click here.


Ault, Alicia. “Ask Smithsonian: When Did People Start Keeping Pets?” Smithsonian Magazine. Last modified September 28, 2016. Accessed October 30, 2022.

Ferguson, Donna. “How the Victorians turned mere beasts into man’s best friends.” The Guardian. Last modified October 19, 2019. Accessed October 30, 2022.

Tourigny, Eric. “Do all dogs go to heaven? Tracking human-animal relationships through the archaeological survey of pet cemeteries.” Cambridge Core. Last modified October 27, 2020. Accessed October 30, 2022.

A Purrfect Match – Archaeology of the Domestic Cat

When we think of the domestication of dogs, an easy picture comes to mind: humans and dogs hunting side by side. Cats, on the other hand, are shrouded in a bit more mystery. How did these highly temperamental creatures end up in the laps of pharaohs and on the couches of our homes today?

Studies suggest that the relationship between cats and humans began in the N

Felis Lybica (African Wildcat)

eolithic period, with the Felis Lybica (or African Wildcat) moving with early farmers to the European continent. Evidence for this comes from the discovery of Felis Lybica bones in Poland dated between 4200 – 2300 BCE (Sloat 2020). This aligns with the transition of humans to an intensely sedentary lifestyle focused on agriculture. Such a lifestyle would certainly draw the attention of rodents, evident by the many documented accounts of rodent infestation in farming communities. Cats, drawn by the large supply of prey, would have begun interaction and dependency on human activity, leading to domestication.

However, this is not the definitive start of domestication for cats. A study by Dr. Krajcarz was conducted by analyzing the carbon and nitrogen isotopes in bone collagen. It revealed that although cats certainly benefited from human activity (evidenced by traces of fertilizer), much of their diet was still from independent hunting (Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun 2020). Over a long period, selective breeding would likely turn these wildcats into the domesticated cats we know and love today.

Further east, we can observe the possible domestication of cats through Egyptian art. One of the first artistic interpretations of cats is shown in the tomb of Baqet III, around 2100 BCE, which depicts a cat at odds with a rat (Bileta 2021). This also lends credence to the theory that cats were lured by the rats that surrounded human civilizations. A change occurred around 1450 BCE when tomb art began showing the cats in indoor settings, alongside royalty (Bileta 2021). Cats began to be depicted on or near chairs, suggesting some form of domestication.

A cat is depicted at its owner’s feet. Interestingly enough, all earliest domesticated cats were striped. Spotted cats did not emerge until much later

A shift away from art can be found in the sarcophagus of a cat called Ta-Miu, the pet of the pharaoh’s son Prince Thutmose. The cat was buried similarly to nobles at the time, suggesting that the ancient Egyptians began to regard cats as very important pets. Of course, this is also obvious when we look at Egyptian deities with feline features. Most famous is the goddess Bastet, who was depicted both with a domesticated cat’s head and as a cat herself. Interestingly, Bastet initially had a lioness’ head, switching to a cat as cats gained prominence in Egyptian society (Bileta 2021).

There may yet be evidence that dates feline domestication further back, but this seems unlikely given that cats were not likely to be buried until much later.


Links of Interest:



Bileta, Vedran. “Cats in Ancient Egypt: The Wild Companions Who Became Gods.” TheCollector, November 29, 2021.

Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun. “5,000 Years of History of Domestic Cats in Central Europe.”, July 13, 2020.,domestic%20cats%20in%20Central%20Europe.

Sloat, Sarah. “Cats Chose Humans Very Early: Archaeological Testing Has Upended a Common Historical Principle.” Inverse. Inverse, July 13, 2020.

Pet Cemeteries Allow Us to Understand The Past: Hyde Park

By: Aidan Wisherd

At first glance, a pet cemetery may be seen as a place that solely remembers an animal and its relation to a human. A refined archaeological approach develops understanding that a pet cemetery says as much about humans as it does pets. Hyde Park in the United Kingdom is the oldest pet cemetery in the nation and has over 1,000 pet remains (Aridi 2020). Burials display a shifting relationship between humans and their companions, with funerary practice changing from remain disposal to a sustained grieving period in the UK after World War II (Aridi 2020). The relationship between humans and animals, in the form of pets, can be seen in the archaeologically observed monuments and remains.

Figure 1. Grave site of Butcha from late 19th Century in the Hyde Park Pet Cemetery (Rowan 2017)

The UK saw a shift to pet-keeping in the late 18th and early 19th century that gave way for a relationship that included emotional attachment, illustrated through the burial of Cherry the dog. Before 1881, elites would hold funerals or formal burial for pets, but Cherry’s owner asked for the dog to be buried in Hyde Park (Tourigny 2020). Careful observation of the cemetery that has since expanded vastly allows for archaeologists to examine even the shifts in the gravestones themselves since inception. Comparable to human burial ground examinations in many cases, monuments and stones have been moved in the pet cemetery, but much is still able to be revealed. 

The early 20th century assessment of Hyde Park illustrates a shift in familial attachment to pets. After World War II, use of family names in addition to the pet’s name on a monument, as well as references to father and mother, became evermore apparent (Aridi 2020). This marks a greater public display of pets as family members. A similar change in the cemetery’s narratives was the incorporation of religion on tombstone’s, alluding to a deeper level of companionship following the Second World War (Aridi 2020). The cemeteries, therefore, become indicative not solely of how a pet behaved but rather how the pet shifted the behavior of its human owners.

Figure 2. Mr. Twister and Raspberry are buried in the Presidio Pet Cemetery in San Francisco, California with a note from their “father” Ken. (California Pet Cemeteries)

Examining early pet cemeteries for shifts in human actions is incredibly useful for the determination of shifts in human behavior. Archaeological examination allows for an understanding of behavior rather than broad generalities on a pet’s honorary epigraph. Through surveying and excavation of sites, visible shifts in specific cultural approaches to funerary practices for animals can be observed through monuments and grave sites. The assessment must be done that not only does human interaction affect animals that have been domesticated, but that the animals also play a key role in a shift in human behavior. 


Helpful Links:

Smithsonian Piece on Hyde Park

Cambridge Article on UK Pet Cemeteries


Works Cited

Aridi, Rasha. “Pet Cemeteries Reveal Evolution of Humans’ Relationships with Furry Friends.”, Smithsonian Institution, 28 Oct. 2020, 

“California Pet Cemeteries.”, 

Rowan, Lily. “The Secret Pet Cemetery of Hyde Park.” History Daily, 7 Dec. 2017, 

Tourigny, Eric. “Do All Dogs Go to Heaven? Tracking Human-Animal Relationships through the Archaeological Survey of Pet Cemeteries.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 27 Oct. 2020,